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Inside the Ropes with Pitt football – Day 11 practice

With the second scrimmage of training camp tomorrow and two physical practices Thursday, Dave Wannstedt decided to ease up on his Panthers and give them a session in shoulder pads and shorts.

The practice, the Pitt coach said, wasn’t without its merits. The Panthers worked on the two-minute drill and red-zone plays – things, Wannstedt said, “that are very important and can be done without tackling.”

Wannstedt also was optimistic that his players could rest and be ready to perform at Saturday morning’s scrimmage. Pitt will try to run between 75 and 100 plays, with punting and field-goal attempts in-between series. Some players will be limited -tailback LeSean McCoy, for example, should get only 15-20 plays – but Wannstedt is expecting everyone to participate.

“All of the guys that are limping around today,” he said, ” … I think they’re all going to make an attempt to play tomorrow.”

It’s important because jobs are on the line.

They’re not necessarily starting positions, but we’re at the point in training camp where the two-deep is beginning to shape up. After the third scrimmage, next Wednesday, the Panthers will begin preparations for playing Bowling Green in the Aug. 30 season opener at Heinz Field.

Wannstedt cited three areas of concern:

First and foremost is the offensive line. The starting unit looks set, with Jason Pinkston at left tackle, C.J. Davis at left guard, Robb Houser at center, John Malecki at right guard and Joe Thomas at right tackle. But Wannstedt said he wants to get some things “cleared up.”

If one thing became clear this week, it was that fifth-year senior Dom Williams has emerged as the leading candidate to be the “swing” guard. Williams once again filled in for Davis at first-team left guard, and has an edge in experience over redshirt freshman Chris “Lumpy” Jacobson.

“Dom is having a pretty good camp, although I’m pleased with Lumpy. Lumpy’s on the right side and he’s playing well. Dom has experience. That’s what would separate him. If something would happen to a guard, he’d go in and play guard because he has experience right now.”

The second priority is sorting out the backup linebackers. Just when Tristan Roberts looked like he had emerged as the best of the redshirt freshmen, Wannstedt noted that fellow weak-side ‘backer Nate Nix “has had a very good camp.”

It will be interesting to see who is victorious in the battles at weak-side (Nix v. Roberts), middle (Max Gruder v. Steve Dell) and strong-side (Brandon Lindsey v. Greg Williams), and whether freshmen Shayne Hale, Manny Williams and Joe Trebitz are destined for certain redshirts.

“We’ve got some competition going there,” Wannstedt said. “That whole group has been very inconsistent.”

The third area of concern is the secondary. Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel look like safe bets as the starting corners with Ricky Gary the top backup, while Eric Thatcher, Dom DeCicco and Elijah Fields the top three safeties. That leaves freshmen Jarred Holley, Ronald Hobby and Antwuan Reed battling for the fourth cornerback job – although a healthy Buddy Jackson could change that picture – and Andrew Taglianetti, Irv Brown and walk-on Mike Toerper fighting for the backup free safety spot.

Tags, who is in the lead, is featured in tomorrow’s Trib.

* I asked Wannstedt if there is any rhyme or reason to the substitution patterns in camp. For example, Dom Williams stepped in for Davis at left guard. Was that because Williams was the top reserve guard or because he’s been practicing at left guard and Jacobson at right guard?

Also, if one linebacker were to get hurt, would the backup at his position step onto the field or would it be a player who knows all three positions?

Wannstedt noted that his coaching philosophy has always been to find one player who is prepared to play whichever position is needed. He had that at the University of Miami with Randy Shannon, who knew all three linebacker jobs and is now the Hurricanes’ head coach. And Wannstedt noted that he had that with the Dallas Cowboys in Ken Norton Jr.

“That’s generally how it is at every position,” Wannstedt said. “We’re not to that point yet where the backups are automatically the next-best guy in.”

* Dorin Dickerson received some first-team reps at tight end. It was both a reward and a necessity, what with backup John Pelusi (shoulder) missing practice and starter Nate Byham getting a blow to rest his sore shoulder.

“Dorin’s had a great camp,” Wannstedt said. “I look at Dorin and Pelusi as starters, too. They’re all going to play, all going to have their roles. Dorin’s getting better. I’ll tell you what: Those guys are beat up. They’re going against (defensive end Greg) Romeus every day and it’s a war. I’ve been impressed with the toughness of our tight ends. We wanted to get (Dorin) some work today. Nate was banged up and Dorin deserves it. He’s playing like a starter.”

* Once again, John Grupp covered for me at practice. Here are his observations, which aren’t bad for a basketball/horse racing writer:

* The star of the two-hour session was Pat Bostick. The sophomore quarterback threw a number of pinpoint passes, showed a quick release and poise in the pocket. All in all, Bostick, working with the second team, enjoyed perhaps his best day of training camp.

The highlight of Bostick’s day came toward the end of practice when, on successive plays, he completed 10-yard touchdown passes during red-zone drills. The first was a dart to tight end Dorin Dickerson between two defenders on a crossing pattern. The second was a laser in the front of the end zone that fullback Henry Hynoski pulled in on a nice catch.

Later in the day, Bostick showed nice touch while making a 15-yard pass over tight end Nate Byham’s shoulder at the sideline. The first-team job clearly belongs to junior Bill Stull, but if Bostick keeps playing like he did today, it’s an encouraging sign for the Panthers.

* During two-minute drills, weak-side linebacker Shane Murray stepped in front of receiver Aundre Wright to intercept a Stull pass. Murray was another standout during Friday’s abbreviated practice.

* It is becoming increasingly clear that 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin is virtually unstoppable on fade routes in the end zone. He caught another TD pass on Friday, soaring over 5-foot-9 cornerback Ricky Gary – who was helpless on the play – for a score.

* Wide receiver Derek Kinder continues to look good as he comes back from his ACL injury. He made a couple nice catches and when he was breaking open on another deep route during 11-on-11 drills, Gary resorted to holding Kinder’s jersey. Kinder didn’t take kindly to the obvious interference. A few plays later, Kinder reciprocated against corner Aaron Berry. He yanked the cornerback’s jersey from behind on an underthrown fade route in the end zone. The ball fell incomplete.

* Pitt holds its second scrimmage today from 10:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

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